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Saturday, March 13, 2010

13. Autobiography (6) Herbert Garrie Carozzi - A Brief Biography

For the first 66 years of my life, I believed that Herbert (Herbie) Garibaldi (Garrie) Carozzi was my father. In July 2009 I discovered that he was is fact my adoptive father. My adoption papers, which I obtained in late August 2009 , indicate that Linda and Garrie Carozzi adopted me on October 11, 1943. According to the court documents, they were unable to 'produce issue'.
They kept secret of real details of my birth all their lives and took the truth to the grave with them. Dad died in 1989 and Mum in 1991. The facts of my birth might still be a secret but for an aunt's slip of the tongue at an unguarded moment - in 2007. The secret remained in tact for another two years until I was finally told. But that is another story ...

My dad was "Garrie" to my Mum, but my boys - his grandchildren - called him "Herbie". He had little education, having left school at the age of 14 unable to read or write, and still in Grade 5. He worked in a series of unskilled labourers jobs throughout his working life. He was an ordinary man with simple needs. He loved fishing and camping.

As I write this, I can picture him now, sitting his Jason recliner rocking chair, in the lounge of our working man's cottage at 82 Reynard Street, Coburg. He lived there from 1936 almost until he died. In his final years he would often sit in his chair all day, watching TV; but every day, so Mum told me, he would turn off the tele, and slip the cassette of the Barrow Creek Boys into the cassette player, and listen to the Australian songs I had written and recorded with Phil McGuire, and he would hum along.

Herbert Garibaldi Carozzi was born in Coburg in 1905, the son of Annibale Carozzi, an Italian jeweller, wine merchant and interpreter, and an Australian born woman, Caterina Mazza. He was the fifth of seven children born to the couple between 1894 and 1908. Annibale died in 1912, at the age of 52, but Caterina lived into the 1960s, and was 94 when she died.

So Garrie - as he was known - was only seven when his father died, and was raised by his mother and older siblings. He was never outstanding in his schoolwork, and was kept down at primary school, finally leaving at the age of 14, whilst still in grade 5 at St Fedelis Catholic School, in Coburg. Up until grade three, he had attended Coburg State School 484. His departure from the state school was the subject of much family lore. According to Garrie Carozzi, his illiteracy stemmed from having been taken from the state school and enrolled at St Fidelis, a Catholic Church. According to Garrie, the classes were very large, and the Catholic school was more interested in the saving of souls than it was in the education of minds. "It was prayers, prayers, prayers and more prayers … and when it wasn't prayers, it was the catechism."

At 14, Garrie was ill-prepared for the world of work. He could neither read nor write, and he wasn't too hot on his tables, either. But the war was over, and there was work to be had. His first job involved the making of patty pans, for small cakes. He lasted at the job for three days; his departure was prompted by his punching the boss' son! He spent the next decade in a range of unskilled labouring jobs: in a factory making travelling cases, in brick yards, as an errand boy for a scientific instruments company.

Then in the late 1920s, he took on an apprenticeship as a boot maker. It was a good trade, and he enjoyed the work, but the Great Depression, beginning in the late '20s put an end to his apprenticeship.

He was on susso for most of the next six years. He was involved in various work-for -the-dole schemes, one of which extracting bluestone clinkers from the basalt deposits around what became the Coburg Lake. Garrie was no longer a young man. He had no job and few prospects; like most working class men, he lacked skills - and unskilled labourers are inevitably the most at risk in times of depression.

He met Linda Kipping at a dance in Coburg around 1935. He was thirty. Linda was 28. She'd left her home town, Hamilton, in the late '20s, and by this time was working as a domestic servant for Coburg's leading dentist : Victor French. The two married in 1936.

As the economic situation improved, Garrie began to find more work. He worked for a time at the brick company, Davis and Coop; he worked for the local woodman, Bob Davies, working at Bob's wood yard, loading wood on to the old tray truck, ready for delivery around the local area. In the early 1940s he worked in Macauley in a rabbit factory, skinning and gutting rabbits.

The newly weds lived in a single room flat for a time, sharing a bathroom with Jack Kynock and his wife, in Brunswick. Then in 1936 or 1937 they began renting a house in Coburg: 82 Reynard Street. They were to live in this house until just before their deaths, over 50 years later. By then they owned the house, having decided to buy it from its owner, Mr. Scott, in the late fifties.

Life at this time was a struggle, but at least Garrie's family was close: Garrie's sister, Vonny, lived a few hundred yards away; his brother Arthur and wife Dulcie lived around the corner in Loch Street; his mother, Caterina, lived less than a mile away, in Beckwith
Street, Coburg, and with her lived Garrie's sister, Rita. His eldest brother, Roy, lived in inner city Kensington, and his youngest sister, Ina, lived with her husband, Allan Robinson, down in Brunswick. Only his sister Thelma had left Coburg; she lived in Sydney. Most of Linda's family was still living in Hamilton, where her father, Bill Kipping, and mother, Edith Kipping (nee Davis) also lived.

Times were tough, but with the war, more opportunities became available. At 35, and with flat feet, Garrie was both too old and physically unfit for army service.

The version of events that I was told throughout my childhood went something like this:
In 1941, they were delighted to discover Linda was pregnant, but the child - a boy - was stillborn. Two years later, in June 1943, Linda gave birth to Barry William. In 1945, Linda again fell pregnant. Again, she went full term, but again she lost the child at the last moment; the baby girl lived for only a few hours. It is hard to assess the effect these events had upon them; certainly their sole surviving son became the focus of their attention and love, and they sheltered, and - in the view of the rest of the family - spoiled their one precious child.

In fact, my parents adopted me. I'd been born at The Haven in North Fitzroy on June 8, 1943. My adoption was arranged three to four months later. There were forms to be signed, a court process to be gone through. In early October, 1943, my parents drove to The Haven to collect me. My cousin Thelma, who was 6 at the time, still vividly remembers the day. Her father - my Uncle Ken - drove my father's car to the 'hospital'; apparently Herbie was too agitated to drive himself.

There is a photo of my father holding a baby. My father is dressed in a suit and the baby is wrapped in a bunny rug. You can see his Italian heritage - in his face, is hair, his dress. He looks very happy.

In 1945, after working in dozens of jobs over the previous three decades, Garrie went to work for the MMBW - the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works - and her worked there until he retired twenty years later. For ten years, Garrie worked in the sewerage section of the MMBW. It was hard, dangerous, and dirty work; each day he would dress in gum boots, thick rubber pants and jacket, and rubber hat, and descend into the sewers around Caulfield; his job was to clear blockages. He would often find valuables: money, jewellery, scrap metal; he would also find quite bizarre things: false teeth, dead animals, articles of clothing; and of course, there were rats.

During the fifties, Garrie left the sewers, and started work at a Depot. These depots were responsible for dealing with minor maintenance work. He was based in Pascoe Vale, and later in Broadmeadows. The work was very poorly paid, and back-breakingly hard. Often, if he was "on duty", he would be called out in the middle of the night, and would have to drive to he depot, where he would collect his bike, a crow bar and a shovel, and ride to the problem site. He would have to dig up the road until he found the leak, mend it, and then fill the hole in. There were no mechanical aids in those days - no bob cats or bull dozers; it was all manual labour, back breaking manual labour.

In 1967 while Garrie was working in a deep hole at two in the morning, he was almost killed when a car drove into his work hole. He suffered relatively minor injuries, considering that the accident was potentially fatal.

Years of smoking and working in the wet and cold had made him susceptible to bronchial troubles. He would cough and hawk over the gulley trap each morning, spitting great globs of green/brown phlegm down into the drain.

He retired in 1969, at the age of 62. Part of him wanted to keep working, but the accident robbed him of confidence, and the doctors strongly recommended that he retire; they also told him that he must give up smoking before it gave him up.

In retirement, he and Linda travelled to New Zealand for a six week holiday. There they met the Utz family, Mervyn and Margaret ? , a couple from Queensland who owned units on the Gold Coast. The friendship continued past the trip, and for the next decade or more, Garrie and Linda made an annual pilgrimage north, and stayed - free of charge - in the Utz's Gold Coast unit. It was a welcome escape from Melbourne's cold winter. They would leave in June and return in September or October.

Garrie's seventies were spent in slow decline. His bronchial problems and emphysema were a constant worry. He was slowing down. His legs began to lose strength, and by 80 he required a walking frame. He'd had few interests in his life beyond his job, and in old age, the few remaining interests became increasingly difficult to pursue. He'd always loved fishing, and in his during his 50s and 60s he'd often driven up to Maffra to one of his nieces' farm, and would spend days fishing in the Thompson or Macallister Rivers. But with failing strength, that became less possible. His final fishing trip, at the age of 81, was to a fish farm at Buxton, where he caught a bag full of trout.

In his old age he took great joy in his grandchildren, and would look forward to their regular visits. In 1986 he and Linda celebrated their fiftieth year of marriage; it coincided with the fiftieth years of their residence at 82 Reynard Street. Soon after, however, their failing health required them to shift to a hostel - they could no longer care for themselves. They were in and out of Mount Royal hospital.

At the age of 83, having moved into a hostel for the aged, he had a fall and broke his hip. His emphysema made normal anaesthesia too dangerous, and an epidural was planned. After a week in hospital he died. It was February 28, 1989.

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